When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find
more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience
(to a national or religious cause) than in the name of rebellion.
-C. P. Snow
"I'm just following orders." This is said by soldiers. Hitler's SS
Troops said it. It was said by subjects in Milgram's study of
obedience (see chapter 8).
"I just went along with the crowd." Individual persons in a
rioting crowd or a lynch mob feel little responsibility.
Degrading the victims. Jews were seen as inferior and
despicable in Hitler's Germany. The victim is portrayed as evil,
stupid, animalistic, or greedy, and deserving to die.
Blaming the victim (see Ryan, 1976). This is a situation where
the victim--the raped, robbed, insulted person--is blamed for
the incident, e.g. "she was asking for it dressed like that."
Example: In My-Lai, Vietnam, American soldiers thought the
villagers had cooperated with the enemy; children in the village
sometimes betrayed or were violent towards our soldiers; "C"
company had just lost 20% of its men in a minefield outside the
village. All Vietnamese were feared, hated, called "gooks," and
were hard to tell from enemy soldiers. One day, Americans
herded 400 villagers--mostly women, children, and babies--into
a ditch and shot them. It seemed to some of the soldiers as
though the villagers deserved to be shot. Similar events have
happened many, many times throughout human history.
Becoming accustomed to violence. In families, a raised voice
becomes a verbal attack which escalates to a raised hand which
leads to a shove, then a slap, and finally increasingly severe
beatings. Likewise, soldiers are gradually trained to kill: first
they see war movies and are told why they must fight, then
there are many training exercises where killing is simulated,
and finally they hear horror stories about the enemy. The more
mutilated bodies one sees, the easier it is to kill. As one soldier
said, "If you see their villages bombed and shelled every night,
pretty soon the people just don't seem worth very much."
Denying the harm done by our aggression. "They are probably
covered by insurance." "I just slapped her around a little." In
war, we forget the life-long pain suffered by the loved-ones of
the deceased; we forget the loss of a creative mind or loving
heart of a 18-year-old.
Read the pacifists' reasons for opposing war and violence under all
conditions (Nagler, 1982). See the movie Gandhi.